By Bren Dubay
“The woman is young — not yet 30. Her name is Clare. While growing up, going to church was like brushing her teeth. No thought of not doing it, it was automatic. Like breathing. Not anymore. Going forward, she would write firmly and boldly one word, four letters, on any form asking for her religion: NONE.”
A Way of Prayer opens with these few sentences and becomes the first booklet in a series of publications we have named Short Writings from Koinonia. Our desire for this series is to spark discussion. We want to share with our readers topics of interest to the community — a glimpse into our life, work, and the many subjects which engage us.
I knew I wanted to write about the life of prayer at Koinonia, the way prayer permeates our day, but it had to be more than a mere schedule of our prayer times. Then Clare, a fictional character, showed up on the page. There is something going on in much of western culture. It has been going on in Europe longer than the U.S. Growing numbers of people do not believe in God. Our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques are emptying. I heard a statistic recently that 7 out of 10 young people in any particular Christian church would leave not only that church, but Christianity as well before they turn twenty.
What is going on and where will it lead?
Clarence Jordan called Koinonia “a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.” So many people come to visit. I have always been struck that a good number who do, profess that they no longer believe. They are as welcome to be with us as anyone else who comes.
What do they see?
Clare was welcome to show up on the page I was trying to write.
What did she see? Why did she come? Why do so many “nones” come to Koinonia?
Even as so many in our world reject religion, there is a spiritual hunger, a spiritual longing. A Way of Prayer tells a bit about the environment we attempt to create here to feed the spiritually hungry.
Clare helped me get a fresh glimpse of Koinonia and realize once more the importance of demonstration plots. I don’t think people are looking for perfection. That’s certainly not what they’ll find here. Perhaps it is not God people are rejecting, but inauthenticity.
I hope for authenticity. I hope for all those who come walk our land, share our food, join in song and do some work with us to see authenticity in our life here.
I hope you will want to read A Way of Prayer and all of the short writings to follow. They are an invitation to learn not only more about this community’s life and the many topics that engage us, but to continue or begin a conversation.
By Bren Dubay
Recently, a number of us made our way down to Flagler Beach in Florida. We walked on the beach, some swam in the ocean, all experienced the drama of a thunderstorm dancing across the night sky above the Atlantic, we talked, we laughed. The time away together was refreshing and renewing. Even running out of gas on the way back couldn’t dampen our spirits (long story — perhaps for the telling in a future Brief Thoughts).
As happens on such outings, there was quite a bit of energy expended surrounding the subject of food. One of us planned the menu, a couple of us gathered groceries, and one of our rooms became the gathering place for meals. Humans know quite well our need for physical food — we spend a great deal of time planning, shopping, preparing then consuming it. On the trip though, I found myself wondering about our need for spiritual food. It isn’t the first time I’ve wondered about this subject. We are very aware of what happens when we go without physical food. What happens when we go without spiritual food?
Early on in my adult life, I worked for a private philanthropic foundation. One of my job duties was to review the many proposals submitted for funding to make sure all the needed information was included in them. I vividly remember an instance when in my left hand I held a request for funding to provide meals to migrant children arriving at our Texas border and, in my right hand, a request for funding to provide theater tickets to inner city children who had never been exposed to the arts. Thinking of those children who had traveled through dangerous circumstances without food and only limited water was visceral. Of course, their hunger was an immediate, tangible need. It was urgent.
I attended the quarterly meetings where board members of the foundation made decisions regarding which proposals they would fund and which they would not fund. Sometimes I was asked for my opinion. The chair of the board was a mentor of sorts to me. He picked up these two proposals, one in his left and one in his right, looked straight at me and asked me what I thought. I am not sure if what I shared surprised him, but it surprised me. My response was that as a child from a poor family I had known physical hunger, but nothing like the hunger the children at the border faced. But I did know what it felt like to have a very empty stomach and how the lack of food made my eyes dull. In my mind’s eye, I could see the dullness of those children’s eyes and it broke my heart. I didn’t stop there though, but went on to share that there was another hunger I had experienced. It was less tangible and therefore, more difficult to explain. It was the lack of stories, of color, of beauty, of music, and of books. I spoke of the first time I was taken to the theater. The dull pain of physical hunger must be satiated, but there is also the dull pain of spiritual hunger that needs food as well. Seeing my first play — a light came on in my eyes. They were no longer dull but bright.
Both proposals received funding.
Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty she ever encountered was in the United States — it was our spiritual poverty to which she referred. At Koinonia, we work to feed the physical and spiritual hunger. Many times we can do both at the same time. At our communal meals, we sit around the table together and welcome all to join us. While we eat the food and share with anyone who is physically hungry, we also fellowship, talk, laugh, and sometimes simply sit in companionable silence. This feeds the spiritual hunger — the loneliness and isolation that so often plagues us in this modern world.
We do not have to choose between physical needs and spiritual needs. We can use our limited resources to address both. To remember that humans are body, mind, and soul and to neglect one is to neglect the whole human. This is how we feed the hungry physically and spiritually — by eating together, by praying together, by working and resting together.
Monday, December 5, 2016, Morning Chapel
By Elizabeth Dede
I think we sort of overuse this word “incredible.” After all, it means unbelievable. What is it that we don’t believe when we say, “That’s incredible?”
For instance, if we were part of this Gospel scene, we might very well say that the people who went up on the roof with their paralyzed friend, took off the roof tiles, and lowered him down to Jesus, were incredible. It’s hard for us to imagine getting up on a roof, much less carrying a paralyzed friend. So we might say, “That’s incredible!” But back in Jesus’ day people spent their evenings and nights up on the roof, so it’s not so unbelievable after all that they went up on the roof.
But they must have gone prepared. After all, where would they find ropes to tie onto the stretcher, to lower their friend down? And imagine how strong they would have to be to accomplish that feat. We might very well say, that’s incredible!
Then think of the faith these people had. They believed that Jesus could, and would, heal their friend. They went through all that work to get the paralyzed man in front of Jesus. They must have heard about his healing power, and then they had to believe. Was that so incredible?
Which is harder to believe, that Jesus can heal a paralyzed man, or that he can forgive sins? Apparently, the scribes and Pharisees thought it was pretty incredible that Jesus would acknowledge the faith of these men, and then forgive their sins. Do we find it hard to believe that Jesus can forgive our sins? Do we say, “That’s incredible?” Do we believe that our sins are so terrible that no one can forgive them?
Jesus can, and does, even in the midst of unbelief.
And then to prove that he has authority, Jesus does the most incredible thing, he tells the paralyzed man to rise, take up his bed, and walk. And guess what? The man does just that. Now I know a little bit about paralysis. My sister Jocelyn had a terrible accident many years ago. She fell down the stairs at home and broke her neck. She can’t use her legs and doesn’t have much use of her arms. Her boys were three-years-old and two at the time of the accident. If I could, I would take her up on the roof and lower her down to Jesus. That would be incredible!
We know that Jesus can heal. Perhaps some day there will be a medical miracle—some surgery, or some stem cell procedure, and my sister will walk again.
But what we do believe now is that Jesus forgives our sins, that Jesus even increases our faith. I hope the scribes and Pharisees were able to have faith, too.
During this Advent, may Jesus come into our hearts, forgive us, fill us with faith, help us to rise up and walk in the light. Now that’s not so incredible!
Morning Chapel, Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Devotional on Psalm 105:2-7
By Elizabeth Dede
How do we serve God constantly? Western culture is a culture that is self-serving, so it is a difficult charge to serve God constantly.
At Wal-Mart you serve yourself by checking out without the help of a cashier. At the gas pump you serve yourself by pumping the gas without the help of an attendant. The younger ones among us don’t even remember a time when there were attendants at gas stations. At the buffet you serve yourself and eat as much as you want. The examples go on and on.
So how do we serve God constantly? We try to resist the power of the self-serving life. We can serve God by serving others. A few weeks ago I went with John and Evelyn to the Harvest of Hope Food Pantry. Our job that morning was to bag up fresh green beans. A local farmer came with a trailer full of them. Apparently he does this regularly when he has fresh produce. People’s arms were overflowing with food, so much so that they had to have help carrying it to their cars. It was good to know that in addition to the canned food they would also have fresh produce.
This nameless farmer serves God constantly by offering his produce to the poor and needy. I know that God is happy.
God loves to be served. We can also serve God through worship. God loves to hear us sing, even if we can’t carry a tune. So sing loudly when you are at worship. Singing praise to God’s name is service.
It is also important to remember God’s saving acts and to be thankful. We can, like the children of Israel, remember our rescue from slavery and recount those stories.
I was trapped in my depression. I had tried years of therapy, but nothing seemed to help me. Then my friend Michael Galovic took me to the doctor. I was scared to death and wouldn’t have been able to go on my own. Michael gave me such a gift. I got diagnosed and got on medication. Like the children of Israel that we’ve been hearing about in the Old Testament readings, I have fallen back time and again into slavery to my bipolar disorder, but God and my friends are always there to rescue me. So I sing His praise.
God is pleased with our service and worship. Let us go about our day, serving him constantly as we do our work, as we greet each other, as we care for the poor, as we worship and pray, and as we sing loudly, if off-key, to God. Amen.
Your e-mails, letters, cards and prayers meant much to me. They reminded me in a most moving way just how fortunate I am.
Even though intellectually we know that breast cancer is not necessarily the death knell it once was, cancer is still a frightening word to hear. But I cannot say I felt fear. I didn’t. But I saw fear in the eyes of others. The hardest part was sharing the news with our children. Especially emotional for me was telling our daughter. She lives in South Korea so the news came to her via e-mail. As a woman, I am very aware that “Is there any history of breast cancer in your family?” is a frequent question asked at medical appointments. Now Jillian’s answer would forever be “Yes. My mother.” I’ve wanted to pass on much to our children — a possible pre-disposition to cancer was definitely not on the list.
I was prepared mentally and physically for the July 15th surgery. I approached the operation as an athletic event much like I approached the birth of our three children. When I learned I was “with cancer,” I increased my physical exercise, improved my eating habits and worked on educating myself about what was to come. I do not think I increased my time with God — happily, we already have quite a bit of such time here at Koinonia — but my awareness and intentionality during those times were heightened. And something happened.
German theologian Meister Eckhart said the best way to find God is to “sink” into him. I sank deeply into something profoundly good. I did not dwell on being cured or not being cured. I had an awareness of being loved whatever the outcome. I found myself mulling Thomas Merton’s explanation of contemplative prayer — “finding that place in you where you are here and now being created by God.”
Outward signs began to match what I was feeling interiorly. The outpouring of love from my community, family, friends, interns, former interns and guests filled me. Prayer works. Whether the specifics of the prayer come to pass or not does not matter. As the recipient of your prayers, I felt what I think it must feel like to be a child held tenderly.
Between surgery and the start of radiation treatments, I came back home to the farm. On a drive through the countryside, I passed a series of yard signs that read “Jimmy Carter for Cancer Survivor.” In less than 24 hours after President Carter’s press conference announcing his cancer diagnosis, dozens of these signs appeared throughout our area (Plains is only seven miles away) and they are still there. All proceeds from their sale go to cancer research. There is one such sign at the entrance to Koinonia Farm. Like so many who watched that press conference, I was touched by Jimmy Carter’s words, smile, spirit and humility. I loved the laughter his humor evoked. Most of all the peace he emanated affirmed the peace I was feeling.
A few months later, with radiation treatments completed, I prepared to travel from Texas back to the farm. I stopped by to see my niece before getting on the road. She was a patient in M.D. Anderson Hospital having battled stage 4 colon cancer for three years. I left Houston on Sunday. She died on Monday. I didn’t expect that. I was cancer free. Jimmy Carter had announced the same. My niece was 27. I thought about railing at God. But I thought of Stephanie and how she exemplified Eckhart’s sinking into God.
Pray for Stephanie Spates Soria and her family. Pray for President Carter. Pray for me. Pray for our world. I pray for you. It matters.
August 9 is a day of anniversaries. It marks both the day the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the day Michael Brown was killed. Regardless of political alignments, it cannot be argued this day holds loss of life and lack of peace. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to World War II, but they certainly did not bring about world peace. Wars continued after the bombs fell and the half-century following was filled with unease and fear of more bombs.
In the days following Michael Brown’s death in 2014, people were quick to place their own personal politics over the situation, deciding who was right and who was wrong. Social media became a battleground filled with anger and a sense of injustice. Heroes were lauded and villains were maligned. Everyday conversations quickly turned to issues of race and systemic injustice. Peace seemed far from anyone’s words or thoughts.
In the dining hall on Koinonia Farm, the community lights a candle everyday at lunch to remind its members to pray for peace. The candle serves as a concrete symbol for an often abstract and difficult charge: peace through reconciliation. Usually someone reads a biography of a peacemaker to educate and inspire those eating lunch. In a dining hall of anywhere from 20-50 people, one can safely assume not everyone is in agreement across political or religious opinions. But one thing every member of the community commits to is working for peace through reconciliation.
One thing that stood out in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown was the amount of angry voices and opinions flying around. People were literally and figuratively shouting at one another. Anger certainly has its place and injustice should be called out, fought against, and stopped. But it felt like a whole lot of shouting and talking and opining without any listening. In the face of such big problems as racial tension and loss of life, the solutions must be complicated and nuanced. The only way to work toward peace and reconciliation is to listen: to hear what each side is saying, to understand why people are angry, to realize different people experience life in very different ways.
The problems of injustice and racial tensions in this nation need people willing to sit down with others who do not look like them or think like them to listen. Just listening will not solve all the problems and this is not a call to sit down and stop talking about uncomfortable issues. Instead, it is an encouragement to begin with listening. The conversation does not need more opinions. It needs more people willing to listen and learn from each other. And maybe this small step- much like the small symbol of lighting a candle- will be a way to begin to reconcile and bring about peace.
Now, a year later, one is tempted to ask if the problems have been solved yet and realize with despair that the world seems no closer to peace than it did a year ago. Christians pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, but this prayer can often be more discouraging than anything. More people have died since Michael Brown. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did end World War II, but they certainly did not end all war. It is tempting to forget one tragedy in the wake of a new tragedy. Every day is a new anniversary for someone’s death, another injustice, another natural disaster. The work for peace through reconciliation is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who can pray even when it seems nothing will ever change. It is for those who chose to listen day after day even when the angry rhetoric seems never ending. It is for those who understand the power of even the smallest move toward reconciliation.
Peace through reconciliation is not easy, but it is good and necessary work that can be done by anyone anywhere. All it takes is a willingness to show up, offer grace and a listening ear, and have faith that small steps lead to big changes.
I love baseball. And here we are at the start of another season. My beloved fallen-on- recent-hard-times Houston Astros began last season with two wins against the Yankees. It was bliss to behold.
Home here at Koinonia, I’ve been known to use baseball metaphors way beyond what is reasonable. I’m about to do it again. Bear with me.
Love one another. It’s simple. It’s difficult. Listen to the news and you just may come to believe it’s impossible. But it is Jesus’ final commandment. He’s at the Passover meal, Judas has slithered out of the room and, in these last few moments before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is clear, “Love one another.” He was sharing a lesson about love and about dying. He washed feet.
I love it when our community goes on outings. At the beginning of baseball season two years ago, a group of us went to see the movie 42 — the story of Jackie Robinson becoming the first Black man to play Major League Baseball. The old segregated way had to die and Jackie’s entrance into professional baseball helped to make it so.
Baseball is spiritual. It’s all about coming home. It’s a great metaphor about life and about dying. It’s full of sounds. The crack of the bat, the crunch of cleats as you sprint for first, the thud as you touch first base with the correct foot so you are better propelled on to second and the roar of the crowd as you round third and race for home. That’s what it’s about, but how often does it happen? Someone who bats around .300 is considered a good hitter. That means two thirds of the time, the hitter experiences death. She may hit the ball, but someone catches it or someone throws it to a base she’s trying to reach. Maybe it’s a force out or maybe she’s tagged, but she’s out. But oh, the joy, there’s another turn at bat. There’s the thrill of another chance. Those who hit at the top to the middle of the order often get four at bats in a game. Four chances to hit. Baseball is such a hopeful game.
There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead, setting captives free even to the point of finding Adam and Eve and pulling them out of their graves. The truth the artist conveys is Christ reaching all the way back to our human beginnings. Reaching even through death for everyone — all of us.
Love one another. To love, we die to self. I think we have focused on Jesus’ death way too much. Let’s look at his life. I think he was demonstrating what we must do — die to ourselves each day to fulfill his command to love and to bring about the “new earth.” We keep going up to the plate even when we fail two thirds of the time. We don’t stop trying. As I heard recently, “If we can be courageous one more time than we are fearful, be trusting one more time than we are anxious: be cooperative one more time than we are competitive, be forgiving one more time than we are vindictive, be forgiving one more time than we are hateful” The bat meets the ball, we see the ball going, going, gone; we touch all the bases. If we strike out, well … if Jesus reached all the way back to Adam and Eve, isn’t he reaching for us? Always. His longing for us never ceases — strike out or homerun.
I think a better baseball metaphor, one that fits better with this theme of dying to self is the sacrifice. A runner is on first base. To get him to second you bunt the ball. You lay down a sacrifice. The runner is going to get to second and into scoring position even though you’ll be thrown out at first. Or a runner is on third. You lift a long, high fly ball, but the outfielder catches is going o catch it. That’s all right. You’re out, but the runner can tag third base and make it home ahead of the throw.
Loving one another is about dying to self. It’s about making sacrifices for others. It’s about going up to the plate again no matter how many times we’ve struck out. On that night two years ago, after the movie, we all came home again to the farm and even the non-baseball fans were buoyed by Jackie Robinson’s courage and perseverance. I think he demonstrated what Jesus asks of us — he died to self, he sacrificed for others and he loved and is loved.
I love baseball.
Go ‘stros! Play ball!